The President, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Nigeria, and former Chief Executive Officer of Associated Airlines, Alex Nwuba, speaks to Lilian Ukagwu on the safety of the Nigerian aviation sector, among other issues
In terms of safety in the Nigerian aviation industry, how would you assess the performance of the current administration?
I will score them 99 per cent because safety is about ensuring that when you get on an airplane, you will arrive safely at your destination. I can say we have been successful in that regard. Beyond preventing accidents, there have been preemptive steps to ensure those things that may lead to accidents have been addressed such as quality training, quality navigational services, and technical oversight. I give it 99 per cent because the result is obvious.
Do you think our airports are well secured as we approach the general election?
First of all, it is important to communicate to everybody that the airports are secured but you know with the security you can always do better. The important thing is that people can be sure that when they get on the airplane, there will be no risk to them outside the normal operations of the airport. So, yes! Our airports are secured as people travel the whole of this period but we can certainly do better.
The Airline Operators of Nigeria said that Nigerian airports lack infrastructures, which they have adduced to be one of the major reasons for flight delays. Can you buttress this?
Absolutely, you can see that one must always separate the airports from the airlines. When a passenger buys an airplane ticket, they automatically assume that the services from point of departure to point of arrival are the responsibility of the airlines but that is not the case. There is the airport that is an independent service provider to the airlines, there is the fuel vendor that is supposed to provide services to the airlines and there are even baggage handlers on contract to provide off-loading of aircraft within a specific time frame. The airports are supposed to provide facilities that allow for quick, easy convenient access for passengers of airlines but the airports have failed woefully in that function. In Abuja, there are still some constraints. If there is not enough space to handle the number of people that want to fly, there will always be delays in the processing of these passengers, which may automatically lead to a delay in the departure of flights. Assuming that you came late for your flight and you were behind 50 people in the queue that have tickets, the potential for you to delay that flight exists and that is what the airlines are complaining about. It means as a service provider you must improve the quality of your service.
If an airplane lands and the baggage handlers don’t offload it on time to enable it to continue with the next trip, that can lead to flight delay. If an airplane wants to depart or transit and the fullers don’t bring the fuel to the aircraft on time, this leads to delays and it could be due to the infrastructural challenges we are talking about. Currently, we have a situation where baggage belts are not functioning properly, certain services are not well provided by the service providers and that is what the airlines are complaining about. These service providers need to step up on their services so as not to cause delays. That is the critical component of many of the delays we are experiencing in the industry today.
Do you think this is the right time to establish the Aviation University?
My preference would have been to expand the services of the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology and upgrade it to a full degree awarding institution because there is a tremendous amount of experience that has been garnered there since the advent of aviation in Nigeria. That is, the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology has built capacity over the years, so it would have been better to expand it.
Secondly, to open satellite campuses across several regions of the country so that everybody does not necessarily go to Kaduna but the government has not done that yet. Nevertheless, every initiative to improve the quality and quantity of training in the sector is a welcomed development. I would have taken a much different approach but every opportunity is good progress. But, of course, when we rush to do things as we have done with the university and trying to do the national carrier, things are not often well executed.
So, it was something that the minister could have put on the table, even if time ran out of his administration, the foundation would be there for somebody else to continue with because the industry will be there to ensure continuation. It would not slide away. Certain challenges are simply the effect of rushing and getting things done at the last minute. We had seven years to get it done because it was in the plan. We have taken the first step. Once students get in, the process has started.
On the issue of aviation fuel in Nigeria, what are the best ways to manage it as it has become one of the major problems in the aviation industry?
The fact that they are reoccurring is to demonstrate that they are not really taking the problem seriously because if you have something happen once, twice, and thrice, you need to be proactive in ensuring it does not reoccur. So, while fuel is outside the purview of the aviation ministry and falls back to our petroleum ministry and associated entities, the government should have been there to ensure that whether it is petrol, diesel or jet fuel, we must build capacity not only by establishing local refineries and all of those things that we want to do. Even if we are importing fuels, we must ensure that we build capacity to halt these challenges.
They should have established what I call a strategy reserve, knowing our consumption volume and how long it would last us. If we know that there is a potential risk such as what has happened, we should have something we can fall back on for some period of time. It is not like emergencies do not come up but we can consume that and replace it so that it doesn’t become stale in storage.
What are your thoughts on aviation insurance in Nigeria?
It is a misconception that only foreign insurance has the capacity to carry a Nigerian insurance risk. The reality is that insurance risk is not carried out by a single insurance company even when it is bought from local entities. It does not bear the risk alone. The risk is passed on. But when we go abroad we pay huge premiums because in those markets they are saying Nigeria is the risk and assigning a higher risk than when imported from local insurance that went out to ensure abroad because insurance to insurance speak the same language and use funny terms to increase the premiums on the so-called risk.
Look at what happened, it started with the question of safety and aviation has been safe for the longest time, so the risk is way reduced.
When we keep jumping and going abroad to buy our insurance policies, we are simply buying into an old mode of looking at ourselves. So, what we need to do is to call and inform the industry that when you buy from local insurance, capacity is not at risk because all these insurance companies reinsure. So, the risk is global in its nature. Local insurance companies at the lower level can bring the same degree of safety and ability to pay claims as you would when you go to an international market.
Earlier this year, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria introduced the ‘park n ‘pay’ services at the Abuja airport. Do you think the authority has the facilities to manage this?
Yes. If they are going to implement it, they definitely have the facilities in place. Otherwise, how are they going to time you when you arrive and when you depart? Again, these are all strategies to increase revenue through what they call non-aeronautics services. There is other income available to them and maybe this is a more efficient manner to charge you by time rather than one figure and you stay the entire day.
They are improving their revenue collection capability and obviously, they must put in place what is required to make it succeed.
Article first published on the Punch Website